Do the Right Thing? That Can Test the Best of Men

After the party ended and everyone else went home, we stood in the doorway of the guest bedroom. We were two adults — grown up, both unattached and alone together. As we chatted there, she moved in close to me, and then got quiet. There was a moment. It was one of those moments. It had been a long time since I had had one of those moments — a very long time.

And the girl I'll call "Amy" had not had one in a long time, either.

She put her arms around me and …

Well, if I had not been at Amy's wedding nearly four years earlier; if I wasn't friends with both her and her then-soon-to-be ex-husband, and if I had a bit less discipline, then the rest of this story would have played out quite differently.

My words to her as I looked into those big hazel eyes were: "You don't know how difficult this is, but I can't. We can't."

Then she hugged me. We talked a little more about it, and I could think of a million reasons on both sides of the balance sheet. For more than a decade, I'd been friends with both her and the guy, "Jon." I watched their romance develop and grow, break up and rekindle into marriage, and then disintegrate after less than four years together. Jon had left the marital home and moved out of the state.

Twice, I'd even helped them move furniture from Jon's family's house to their suburban Washington house, where this encounter took place. I was in Washington for a weekend business trip. Whenever I'm in the nation's capital, I try to see as many friends as possible, including Jon and Amy.

Several months earlier, Jon and I had met for lunch when we were both in New Jersey at the same time. That's when he told me about their separation. For a variety of reasons, married life just wasn't working out for him.

So he left. Leaving behind Amy, a sweet, attractive, highly educated professional, was something I, as an outsider, could not understand. A couple of years later, I still cannot understand why they broke up.

There were no extrinsic strains on the marriage, such as affairs, or cheating, or pressures of children or finances. Outsiders never know what goes on in someone else's marriage. All we see is the carnage. As certain friends have legally separated and later divorced, I've remained friends with both. Neither side managed to win me in the inevitable friend custody battle that accompanies most divorces. But that didn't mean there was no pressure on me.

Even close friends can get swept into post-relationship rancor, or at least a potentially uncomfortable situation that puts a bystander, like myself, into the cross hairs of an ethical dilemma.

An Ethical Dilemma
That night after the party, I know I certainly would have liked to take things to a different level. My social life lately tends to ebb and, well, ebb. Surely, that type of action would have been nice. On top of that, I'm sure Amy's ego, bruised from an inexplicable separation, could have used a boost. I also observed the attention she garnered at her party for a Jewish recreational group, where at least three guys were actively courting her.

Sometimes, it's harder to do the right thing. And, it's usually not too much fun, either.

My friend "Adam" was in a similar predicament. Following the divorce of one of his best friends, he began to get close with his buddy's new ex-wife, whom he described as "absolutely perfect."

He said, "She's smart, sexy, Jewish. She's just my type," he lamented recently.

Adam, in his late 30s, is a worldly small-business owner. He's about 6-foot-2. Even though his friends were divorced and he played no role in the disintegration of the relationship, he still contemplated the ethics of a relationship with his friend's ex. "I thought about it a lot and still do, but I couldn't," he said.

Someone with less integrity might have crumbled, too.

Roy S. Gutterman is a Syracuse, N.Y.-based writer. To contact him, visit:



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